Arrests Punctuate Senate Hearing on Security

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Immigration protesters repeatedly interrupted a Senate hearing Thursday in which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said this week’s deadly attacks at an airport in Istanbul have the “hallmarks of an attack by ISIL.”
     The commonly abbreviated Islamic State group has not yet claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attacks, which injured hundreds and left 44 people dead, including the attackers. This count includes one American with “minor injuries,” Johnson noted.
     Johnson said airports have stepped up security in the United States and that travelers should expect to see the increased presence over the upcoming long weekend for Independence Day.
     The Homeland Security chief did warn, however, that airport security is not the sole focus in the wake of the recent carnage.
     “In general, my caution is that when it comes to public places and public events, we should not focus our attention on things like airports to the exclusion of other public places and public events,” Johnson said.
     Johnson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning touched on many topics, but was heavily skewed toward immigration policy, which caused five protesters to temporarily interrupt the hearing.
     The protesters, some of whom wore bright orange shirts, stood up one at a time while Johnson was answering a question from Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, about immigration.
     They all held small paper signs with the names or pictures of people they said were killed after being deported from the United States.
     One woman shouted “no more deportations” as police escorted her out of the high-ceilinged, wood-paneled room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. At one point during her protest, she walked up the aisle in the hearing room toward Johnson, causing a man in a suit to stand up and block her path before police got to her.
     Other protesters shouted “Jeh Johnson, you have blood on your hands” before police removed them from the room.
     Some protesters went with police willingly, with one saying “I don’t want to be arrested” before slinging a backpack over his shoulder and walking with a uniformed officer. Police had to grab others by the arms, once with enough force to generate a vocal reaction from some in the audience where the protestors had been seated.
     “It would be very efficient if anybody else wants to stand up and be removed to do that instead of starting the meeting again,” Grassley said, just before the fifth protester stood up.
     Outside the hearing room, police lined the protesters up in the hallway. Some of the protesters appeared to have zip-ties on their wrists.
     Johnson eventually responded to Grassley’s question about so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, saying he would like to see more cooperation from cities on immigration enforcement.
     The brief disruption did not prevent Johnson from answering questions from senators on the department’s immigration efforts as well as on a host of other topics that have dominated Senate debate in recent weeks.
     Chief among these was a Supreme Court stalemate last week that kept a pin in the Obama administration’s executive order that offered deportation relief to 5 or 6 million people in the country illegally.
     No court has reached the merits of the program yet, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, had asked whether the department believes that the federal injunction out of Texas applies only to the states within the Fifth Circuit’s jurisdiction.
     Johnson said Homeland Security would treat the injunction as though it applies to all 50 states. “There’s no plan to do that, if that’s what you’re asking,” Johnson said.
     Senators also asked Johnson to weigh in on gun-control proposals that have consumed Congress for much of the last two weeks.
     Three bills the Senate recently voted on — one each from Sens. Dianne Feinstein, John Cornyn and Susan Collins — all contained provisions that would prevent people on the no-fly list or a terror watch list from purchasing guns.
     All three failed over concerns, primarily from Republicans, about the varying degrees of due-process protections they provided for people placed on the lists wrongfully.
     Cornyn, a Texas Republican, grilled Johnson on the proposals at Thursday’s hearing. He wondered whether it is appropriate to suspend the Second Amendment rights of people on a secret government list.
     “It really concerns me very deeply when people -and this isn’t a partisan issue – but where people will say we can deny an American citizen an enumerated constitutional right based on their presence on a classified watch list,” Cornyn said.
     Johnson disagreed with Cornyn, saying the ability of terrorists to reach into the United States could necessitate stronger gun laws.
     “Senator, I believe that in this environment that includes terrorist-inspired attacks on our country, that includes the homegrown violent extremist, we owe it to ourselves to figure out a way — short of a criminal conviction or any of the other statutorily enumerated criteria that currently exist — to give the attorney general the discretion to say no to a gun purchase under particular circumstances, along with some form of process, so that that individual can challenge that decision,” Johnson said.
     Cornyn snapped back at Johnson’s support of the so-called no-fly, no-buy legislation.
     “What other constitutional rights would you say could be denied unilaterally by the government based on their presence on a secret watch list?” Cornyn asked.
     Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who was a vocal supporter of his party’s efforts on gun control, took the first few minutes of his time for questions to hit Cornyn for his views on the gun bills.
     “When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, we have emergency powers,” Schumer said. “Police officers in danger, they don’t have to go through a process.”
     “But all of the sudden when it comes to guns, the standard becomes absolutely ridiculous,” Schumer added.

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